AndyO Blog

Friday, February 07, 2014

Seahawk fever

On Wednesday we had a parade in downtown Seattle to celebrate the Super Bowl 48 Champion Seahawks.

Now, we've had some big events in Seattle, like the parade for the Supersonics in 1979, as well as the usual concerts and presidential rallies. But nothing has ever approached this order of magnitude. This was one of those astronauts-driving-down-Canyon-of-Heroes-in-New-York-City parades! In the end, more than 700,000 fans converged on downtown Seattle to pay tribute to the Hawks.

I wasn't one of those fans, as I needed to go to work (plus I'm not that big on crowds anyway). But my wife Brenda, whose office was only a block or so away from the parade route, braved the freezing temperatures to witness the insanity first-hand -- sending me occasional photos and messages. She said it was so crowded that it was nearly impossible to get close to the parade route. In the photo below, you can see parade route at the traffic light in the distance (circled with an arrow):

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She was able to get closer, but the parade still hadn't started.

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Eventually she went back to her office, where she could see some of the parade between buildings. In the photo below, you can see one of the amphibious Ducks carrying Seahawks (red circle). You can also see the people standing on rooftops.

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Brenda said a lot of parents had brought their kids to the parade -- but many of them seemed unprepared for the frigid weather and mayhem. We had actually wrestled with the decision about whether to pull one or both of our boys out of school for the event, but there were a few reasons why we didn't.

First, according to the school district, kids wouldn't be excused from being absent. Here's part of the email we received on Feb 3 (highlighting added):

Seattle Public Schools will not close or dismiss school early because of the Seahawks parade on Wednesday. Parents who wish to take their students out of school can, but per state regulation, it will be treated as an unexcused absence. While we support the team, academics must come first and it's important not to lose a day in the classroom.

The other reason was my older son told us he couldn't miss a rehearsal for an upcoming concert.

But that didn't stop a lot of other kids. According to the a Seattle Times report, 27 percent of the school district's 51,000 students were reported absent (as well as 565 [19%] of the 3,000 teachers!). Maybe it had something to do with the Mayor and others asking for a little leniency. After all, this was practically a city holiday.

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Or maybe it had something to do with Seattle schools clarifying their policies:

UPDATE: Under state regulation, Principals have the discretion to decide if students who miss school tomorrow for the parade will be considered unexcused or excused.

Around 3:00 p.m., I started looking at some of the parade coverage online -- and I couldn't believe what I saw (from the Seattle Seahawks Twitter feed):

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It looks like some kind of football fan zombie movie!

Later the Seahawks posted a gallery of 150 photos. Check out this one of Marshawn Lynch (Beast Mode) riding on the front of the Duck, handing out Skittles:

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Here's another one that shows the size of the crowd:

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Regardless of how you feel about sports and their overall importance, you have to admire the way the Seahawks brought the community together during the 2013 season. And while a Super Bowl championship is an astounding feat, I'm left wondering if bringing those 700,000-plus people out of their homes, workplaces, and schools for the biggest party of the year is another equally-impressive accomplishment. 

I also wanted to give props to the biggest Seahawk Fan I know, my brother-in-law Brian Suiter. Brian is the kind of fan who watches the Hawks every season, whether they're winning or not. He's the kind of fan you buy a Seahawks toaster as gift (that burns the Seahawk logo into the bread!). It was Brian who first told me that the Seahawks had a chance of going all the way. He told me to watch them on an upcoming Monday Night Football game, and I did (the December 2 game against the New Orleans Saints). What I saw in that game -- especially in Russell Wilson's quarterbacking performance -- reminded me of something that bordered on sport and art, skill and creativity. So thanks, Brian, for being there for the team -- and also helping me jump on the bandwagon when it was time. You are the original 12th Man!

Microsoft employees show 12th Man spirit

Finally, congratulations to the Seahawks team, the fans, and everyone who made this season (and celebration) possible.

As always, Twitter was a great place to get updates. Here are a few of my favorite tweets from Wednesday -- virtual postcards of the parade and celebration:

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posted by AndyO @ 6:45 PM   0 comments links to this post

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Year in Review: 2013 - Part 1

It was a busy year last year. In fact, there was so much to document it took me until now (late January) to post this!

Part 1 includes January - May

January: Leavenworth, WA

For Martin Luther King Day weekend, we took the kids to snowy Leavenworth (the closest thing we have to a Bavarian village in the North Cascades in Washington). There's a lot to do in this town, but we mainly focused on sledding, eating German food, visiting Icicle Creek and Sleeping Lady Mountain Retreat, and seeing the amazing lights in the town square at night.

Brenda and the boys - Leavenworth town square

March: Birthdays, fire station visit, FFT, and Sandtroopers

My Mom turned 70 this year, and the whole family got together to celebrate at one of our favorite restaurants in Seattle, Palisade, on Easter Sunday.

Cathy at her 70th birthday party at Palisade

Also on Easter Sunday (before the birthday celebration), I had lunch with New York Times bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson. (He also wrote the novelization of Rush's Clockwork Angels.) Read my blog entry, "Leaving the Cave with Kevin J. Anderson."

Fire station visit

Drew and his Cub Scout troop visited our neighborhood fire station 31 for an in-depth tour by the great crew there. My neighbor and veteran firefighter Pat help set up the visit (it's his old station). To thank the firefighters, we brought a platter of brownies, which they devoured after the tour.

Here's a photo of all the boys with one of the firefighters.

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Visiting the FFT

When the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, the three remaining ships (Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavour) were distributed to a few museums throughout the country. While the Museum of Flight in Seattle didn't get one those ships, it did get the NASA Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT) that every shuttle crew used. I got a chance to tour the FFT this year, and it was worth the extra admission price ($30 for adults). It's hard to understand the cramped layout of the shuttle's cockpit and living area unless you go inside. The Museum of Flight did a great job with this exhibit, and is well worth visiting if you're in Seattle.

My favorite story was told by the docent standing behind me in the photo below. Evidently, President Bill Clinton took a tour of FFT when it was at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. When he saw the water faucet (or whatever it's called on the shuttle), he said he'd always wanted to have a drink of water from a spacecraft. They told him they didn't usually use it, but he insisted. He took a drink and said it was excellent. After he left, they tried the water and it was horrible! After that time, they always kept potable water on the FFT for presidents or anyone else who wanted a drink.

Hanging out in the Space Shuttle trainer

Sleeping with the Fishes

As part of Drew's "expedition" at school on tide pools, his second grade class got to spend the night at the Seattle Aquarium. Since I had been busy with work and unable to volunteer as much as I wanted, I went on this trip. We did all kinds of stuff that I'd never done before, including visiting the area where they prepare all the food for the sea otters. The kids also visited the sub-zero freezer. We caught plankton off the peer outside, and then looked at it under a microscope. Drew's favorite part was eating snacks in the main aquarium.

Then we got to sleep in the giant glass dome that's under the water (so you can see all the fish swimming above you).

Drew and I staked out a spot in the hallway leading into the dome (which was fine with me, because it was a zoo inside). They told us it got cold at night, but I didn't think much about it. I mean, how cold could it get? When I woke up in the middle of the night and felt the icy air on my nose and face, I wondered if someone had left that sub-zero freezer open.  And, as is the case with any kind of camping (indoor or outdoor), I had to go to the bathroom. First, I walked up the ramp leading to the main aquarium building. I was observed by a few birds in their habitat -- obviously wondering who this guy was walking around in the middle of the night. But the doors to get out of the building were locked! So, I had to walk all the way back down the ramp, through the dome, and around that minefield of sleeping bags to use the other bathroom.

A few days later, I would receive my special t-shirt that read, "I Slept with the Fishes."

Sleeping with the fishes

Drew's birthday

For Drew's birthday, he got special Oreo cake. Here he is posing with it:

Drew and his Oreo cake

He also got a nice dinner at Cucina! Cucina! in Issaquah with my family (and got lots of presents).

April: Rocky gets surgery, cats get new nicknames

We've been lucky, because our 15-year-old cats have been relatively healthy. But in April, Rocky needed surgery. For two weeks afterward, he had to wear "the cone of shame," as Cameron called it. He freaked out so much, we changed the cone into a kind of blanket. I would take it off every once in a while (or he would!) and let him lick for a while, but we were pretty diligent. He recovered well, but he's definitely slowed down.

Rocky and the "cone of shame"

As Rocky and his sister Jasmine have become "senior" kitties, they've acquired new nicknames. For example, until now their nicknames were "Rocky bo-bo" and "Jasmine Kit-ty" (usually pronounced "Yasmine"). But somehow they received new nicknames this year:

  • Rocky Schwandoo (pronounced shwan-doo)
  • Yasmine Quietey (pronounced quiet-ee)

May: Weddings and Disneyland

Chris and Mary get married

My rock brother Chris (from the legendary Chris Mess) got married to his sweetheart Mary at Urban Light Studios in Greenwood. Both Chris and Mary are born entertainers, and that's exactly what they did for the wedding attendees, with a full backup band (the fabulous Velveteen Lotharios). What I loved about their wedding was how it reflected their personalities: from the photos on the walls, to their wedding clothes (Mary's shoes and hat were a big hit), to the songs they played. Congrats, Mary and Chris! 

Mary and Chris at the wedding

California: Disneyland and Legoland

For Brenda and Cameron's birthdays, we made a week-long trip down to California. This was Drew's first visit to Disneyland, and he wasn't disappointed. Brenda did some great planning -- from figuring out the sequencing of rides (there's a book that she found that tells you how to do it) to where we stayed. The result was our hotel was near the entrance (so we didn't have to walk too far), and we never waited more than 20 minutes for a ride.

Brenda birthday was on the first day in the park. Like her birthday 9 years ago, we tried to eat dinner at the Blue Bayou near the Pirates of the Caribbean ride -- but it was not to be because of the wait time. But she did get an awesome parade in her honor.

For me, the highlight was Star Tours - The Adventure Continues. Not only was the 3D motion simulator and screen much better than the original Star Tours, it also has a "branching narrative" that can create up to 54 unique ride experiences. Drew and I went on this ride multiple times and never saw the same story. My favorite was when Vader uses the Force to shake the ship around.

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On Cameron's 13th birthday, Disneyland was open 24 hours to kick off the summer season. We made several trips to the park, and in the evening celebrated with the Bielicki family who live in the area. I hadn't seen Brian and Jenni in a long time, and had never met their three children. We had plenty of time to catch up while we waited to be seated at The Rainforest Caf�. (Fortunately, Jenni used some kind of secret California handshake to get us in within an hour -- instead of the projected 2 hours!). 

Brian and Andy

Later on at the hotel, Cameron enjoyed two cream pies that we bought at lunch that day.

Cameron and his birthday pies

San Diego and Legoland

The next day, we drove to San Diego. Brian had warned me about how busy the freeway would be, and he wasn't kidding. I think it took us four hours to get to the Hotel Del Coronado, across the bridge from San Diego on Coronado Island. When we got there, I took a break in the room while Brenda and the kids went swimming.

Brenda and I had always wanted to stay at the Hotel Del Coronado (it's one of those "places to stay before you die"). The red turrets, opulent interiors, and lush courtyards are a time capsule of Victorian architecture and design. This is a hotel where celebrities, kings, and presidents have stayed. The film Some Like It Hot was filmed there in 1958.

Del Cornonado

On the last day in California, we went to Legoland and stayed at the adjoining Legoland Hotel. Drew loves building Legos, so you can imagine how happy he was to spend a day in a Lego park. I have to say that the hotel itself was amazing, with its Lego-inspired designs throughout. Here's the lobby with Drew busy building away:

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posted by AndyO @ 9:28 PM   0 comments links to this post

Year in Review: 2013 - Part 2

This is part two of my "year in review" for 2013. This covers July - December.

July and August: Weddings, Rush, Vancouver, Yellowstone, and more

My brother-in-law Brian got married to his longtime sweetheart Stacy in a picturesque outdoor ceremony in Mt. Vernon. I was the official videographer, so I enjoyed an "all access pass" to all the festivities, including being right next to the ceremony. Here's a nice casual photo of Brian and Stacy in between photos. Congrats to Brian and my new sister-in-law Stacy!

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Rush in Vancouver

As luck would have it, Rush scheduled their summer tour stop right in the middle of my family vacation (this is the second time this has happened!). But I figured out a way to see them in Vancouver right before we headed off on a long, car vacation to Yellowstone. It was my last show on the Clockwork Angels tour, and Cameron and I had a great time.

Read more about this trip here.

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Summer Vacation

Cameron and I drove home from Vancouver on Saturday morning (which took us around 4 hours due to the border delays -- instead of 2-1/2 hours). After a short rest and more packing, we grabbed Brenda and Drew, and drove off to Spokane, WA, on the first leg of our summer vacation. There were three phases to this trip:

  1. Olson family reunion in Big Sky, Montana, and visits to Yellowstone park
  2. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
  3. The trip back to Seattle: A visit to my childhood home of Idaho Falls, Craters of the Moon, Boise, and finally my parents' house in the Tri-Cities (Camp Olson!)

There's simply too much to recount here, but here are some of my favorite images/moments in Yellowstone Park:

Artist point:

Grand Canyon - Lower falls at Artist Point

Mammoth Hot Springs:

Mammoth Hot Springs

Norris Basin at sunset:

Above Porcelain Basin at Norris Geyser Basin

Read more about our Yellowstone trip here

August

We visited Stehekin, WA. You can read more about our trip here.

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October: The Dogs and Halloween

The Winery Dogs

I had a chance to see one of my favorite drummers Mike Portnoy play with his band, The Winery Dogs, at the intimate Crocodile Cafe. As if that wasn't enough, I had an opportunity to interview Mike before the show!

Read my interview with drummer Mike Portnoy.

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Halloween

Drew and his friend Ben trick or treated through our neighborhood in Seattle. At one point, even Drew's big brother Cameron joined in. Everyone scored in the candy department. Here's a photo of Drew and Ben in costume (Jango Fett meets a Minecraft Creeper).

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November: New drums, big news, and Thanksgiving in Seattle

For all his life, Cameron has been playing my drums. Now that he's stuck with the drums for a while, including his third year playing in the Jazz band at his middle school, I thought it was time for him to get his own set. So we went to Guitar Center and bought a beautiful Gretsch Catalina Jazz kit, and set it up in the packed drum room among the books, three other drum kits (two set up, one not), speakers, various snare drums, mixers, cords, and much more. But he loves his kit. Here he is not long after we set it up:

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Thanksgiving by the Bay

This year we stayed in Seattle for Thanksgiving, and for various reasons we ended up eating dinner at McMormick and Schmicks on Lake Union. It was a lot of fun and a great view. Over dinner my sister Kristen shared her big news with Cameron and Drew that she's having a baby in Spring 2014. Here she's showing them the ultrasound picture of their cousin, who will be another Olson boy!

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Congrats to Kristen and Dale!

December: Snow, Christmas, and New Year's eve

The week before Christmas, we had a rare dusting of snow in Seattle. For those of you used to major snowstorms, this might not seem like much. But any snow in Seattle is a big deal, due to all the hills and the lack of equipment to deal with it. It was just enough for Cameron and Drew to A) stay home from school and B) build a snowman. Then, less than 24 hours later, the snow was all gone. Cameron and Drew took it personally.

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Christmas in the Tri-Cities

This year we joined my brother and sister and their spouses for a nice celebration in the Tri-Cities. My parents have lived in the same house since we were kids (although it has been remodeled), and we all wanted to get together again before they move out in the future. Cameron and Drew (the only grandchildren for now!) got a lot of presents. They loved them all so much, they didn't take off their pajamas or leave the house for two days.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Stehekin, WA - Day 2: Bike trip

I finally got a good night's sleep, so I woke up at 9:00 a.m. refreshed and ready for adventure. The original plan was to take the Stehekin Bus to Rainbow Falls, and then walk back (about 3 miles one way). But we got a little behind schedule and missed the bus, which only runs every few hours. Instead, we decided to bike.

Ordinarily, biking would be a no-brainer, but Drew is actually still learning to ride. The night before, we'd tried out a "co-pilot" tandem, where a smaller bike with a back wheel is attached to a full size bike; but it felt incredibly unstable.The other option was one of those bike trailers.

The guy at Discovery Bikes said the tandem would be much better, and explained how once the back rider starts pedaling it stabilizes. So Drew and I gave it a test ride, and it worked!

Andy and Drew go biking

Stehekin Pastry Company

Soon we were pedaling toward our first destination, the Stehekin Pastry Company bakery. While the bike felt stable, every once in a while Drew would lean over too far, and I'd need to compensate. This was unnerving when the road narrowed or cars passed by.

As Brenda rode behind us, she told Drew "not to lean." Well, he didn't like that too much and said he wanted to go back. Fortunately, we arrived at the bakery.

The Stehekin Pastry Company is the perfect pit stop for bikers, hikers, and kids who want to turn around. Serving an assortment of pastries, sandwiches, ice cream, and drinks, it's located about 2 miles from the Stehekin Landing. The alpine ambience and friendly staff make you feel at home -- like eating at your favorite neighborhood restaurant.

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We ended up getting cookies, a lemon bar, and a blackberry scone (all of them delicious). Most importantly, it was enough to get Drew back on the bike.

Rainbow Falls

The trek to Rainbow Falls was difficult in places because of a few steep hills. When it got a little too tough, I jumped off the bike and walked . Along the way, we stopped at the Old Stehekin School. This is a one-room school -- like what I remember seeing on the show Little House on the Prairie

Cam and Stehekin School

According to the Stehekin Heritage Guidebook, the school was built in 1921 and was used for 67 years. A new school was built for the 1988-89 school year for students in Kindergarten through 8th grade (students have to move elsewhere to go to High School).

I liked how the room featured artwork and posters from students about the history of the school and Stehekin area. A message on the chalkboard read, "This is a historic building. Please treat it with respect."

Stehekin Schoolhouse 

After getting buzzed by (surprise!) bees and a few mosquitoes, we biked the steepest part of our journey to Rainbow Falls. When we got there, a red Stehekin Bus was parked in the turnaround (probably the bus we would have taken had we not biked).

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls is a towering 312-foot waterfall that drops onto a few different rocky terraces. The last section creates a beautiful fan of water spilling into an inviting alpine pool. Since the park ranger-led tour had left, we had the place pretty much to ourselves (and the hundreds of mosquitoes trying to attack us).

Brenda and Drew at Rainbow Falls

Stehekin Pastry Company - Part II

Once we left Rainbow Falls, we coasted down those same hills that had taken so much effort to climb. I often forget how exhilarating it is to fly down a steep hill on a bike, which Drew was experiencing for the first time. (It also makes me realize why people love motorcycles.) I actually slowed us down a little, since I knew Drew wasn't used to this kind of speed on a bike.

As we sped along, I started noticing amazing views that I'd missed on the way up -- when my vision had been narrowed by concentration and fatigue. One view was so spectacular, I had to stop to take a picture (which meant Drew had to stop, too). As I stood there, I heard the screech of a hawk echo above.

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Then, for the second time that day, we stopped at the Stehekin Pastry Company. This time, I ordered one of their sandwiches on homemade bread (again, excellent). And then we were off again.

As we biked along Lake Chelan, the views in the mid-afternoon light were stunning, with towering mountain peaks, streaming sunlight, and deep blue water. I was starting to realize how Stehekin was joining my short list of magical places that include Cannon Beach, Oregon; Whistler, B.C.; Tofino, B.C; Monterey, California; and all of Hawaii.

Whenever I'm visiting these magical places, I think of what it would be like to live there. Then I realize that visiting is part of the magic -- that it takes on an idealized state in memory. You don't get to see the effort that goes into living in a place like Stehekin, which is dependent on boats and planes for many supplies. Maybe that's part of the appeal?

I was already thinking about when we could return.

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posted by AndyO @ 8:28 PM   0 comments links to this post

Friday, August 23, 2013

Stehekin - Day 1

We got up at 7:00 a.m. to take the Lady Express 51 miles "up lake" to the remote area of Stehekin -- an area only accessible by boat or float plane. It's a 2-1/2 hour ride via the Express, which we immediately dubbed a "3-hour tour" (see Gilligan's Island).

The boat trip up to Stehekin

Thanks to the crew's announcements and Lady of the Lake newspaper, I learned a lot on our journey:

  • Lake Chelan is the deepest lake gorge in North America.
  • Lake Chelan has two basins, the smaller Wapato Basin (400 feet deep and 12 miles long). The Lucerne Basin is 1,486 feet at its deepest point (and 386 feet below sea level).
  • The Lucerne Basin holds 92% of the lake's water.
  • Stehekin resides within North Cascades National Park.

After a brief layover at Field Stop Landing (16 miles up lake) to pick up more passengers and cargo, we arrived at Stehekin Landing around 11:00 a.m. The Landing was also the location of North Cascades Lodge, our home base for two nights. But check-in wasn't until 2:00.

Stunning Stehekin Landing

We stowed our bags in the Lodge General Store behind the ice cream freezer, and hiked to the Golden West Visitor Center. While we were looking around, the ranger there told me that much of the materials for Golden West, including window frames, stairs, and doors -- even some glass panes --came from the Victorian-era Field Hotel. Brenda and Drew explore the Golden West Visitor Center

From what I read, starting around 1905 the Field Hotel had been one of the finest places to stay in the Northwest, catering to both miners and tourists. But the Lake Chelan Hydro Project, started in late 1920s, would raise the lake surface 21 feet, submerging the hotel's location. Not wanting to let the good materials go to waste, they recycled as much of Field Hotel as possible.

Golden West Visitor Center

After that, we went to lunch at the North Cascades Lodge, and finally got into our room around 1:30.

A curious vibe

As we circulated through Stehekin, I started to notice how different it was from the town of Lake Chelan.

  • There were a lot of serious backpackers here, as Stehekin is a trailhead for many North Cascades trails. 
  • People living and working here (only 95 year-round residents) possess a brand of hospitality and community that goes way above most small towns. A few examples: Everyone waves from their car. People ask where you're from and seem genuinely interested. The owner of the bike rental shop offered a free bike for Drew to practice on during the evening.
  • The tourists also seemed to be of a different caliber than the jet ski types at the other end of the lake. In addition to the hikers, many people seemed to be visiting from all over the world (for example, our neighbors next door at the lodge were European).

The great outdoors

For dinner that night, Brenda cooked up a very western hot dogs and beans. We decided to eat on our deck to enjoy the tremendous view.

The "tremendous view" on our deck

As we started eating, a few bees buzzed us (as had happened all day long). But within minutes, there were squadrons of bees dive bombing our food. The first person to fold was Cameron, and then Drew.

But when I had five or six bees swarming me (and my food), I threw in the towel, too. I like to enjoy my dinner, and this wasn't enjoyable. Finally, Brenda gave up. Dinner tasted great once I stopped swatting bees.

Later on, I went outside to view the sunset, an explosion of pinks, whites, and blues in the sky that seem to be amplified by the surrounding mountains and lake.

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As night replaced twilight, I stepped outside to view the stars (which I thought would be extra bright due to the lack of light pollution). But I kept catching a strange fluttering out of the corner of my eye. After this happened a few times, I realized these were bats!

I'd never seen so many bats chasing insects, never had them passing so close to my head. They glided in near silence, and every so often I'd get a better view of them opening their wings to slow down. But I have to admit, it really creeped me out! (I knew enough about a bat's sophisticated bio-sonar system to understand they probably wouldn't run into me.)

I retreated indoors to a bedroom window, where I watched the bats swooping past lights. Then I saw some people walking up the path from the road, a mother and young son. They stopped dead -- pointing at the bats circling around their lodge door. I watched as they finally gathered enough courage to walk into the swarm. 

Like a scene out of The Birds, the mother stood there in horror, as the bats streaked around her, hurrying her son to unlock the door. I guess she was as creeped out as I was. They got in and slammed the door.

I slept well that night, thinking of bats flying around outside. I hoped they got a few extra bees so we could eat dinner on the deck the next day.

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